Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rice for the World

Last post, we learned about rice cultivation's environmental impact. But there is hope for a solution! Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) -- it’s an irrigation technique which reduces methane emissions by 50% and water usage by 30%.

In traditional rice cultivation, the fields remain continuously flooded during growing season. The organic matter in the soil (straw, manure, etc) decomposes anaerobically (without air) and releases as a byproduct, methane, a greenhouse gas 25x more potent in greenhouse warming effect than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Transplanting rice in a flooded field -- hard work!

In AWD, the water level is allowed to drop to 6 inches below the top of the soil before irrigating again to 2 inches above soil level. This process of drying the soil and irrigating continues until harvest. Since the soil is allowed to dry periodically, the organic matter decomposes with the help of oxygen, preventing methane from being produced.

This practice has proven to have no negative impact on yield; in fact, in some cases, yields increased. Farmers have also reported that the roots have better anchorage (making them typhoon-resistant). Grains also have a good shape and size, with lower trace amounts of arsenic that naturally occurs in rice.

Moreover, AWD practice reduces methane emissions by 50% on average and decreases water use by 30%. It’s a win-win situation for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Not only are farmers reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, but they are also adopting a climate-smart technique which will better prepare them for water scarcity which climate change may bring.

With decreased water usage, farmers save money in cases where they use diesel-pumped irrigation systems. AWD also decreases conflict between farmers since there is less likelihood of experiencing a water shortage.

The main challenge to implementing AWD will be to break farmers’ deeply entrenched belief that rice is an aquatic plant that needs to be continuously flooded. No easy task where almost all the rice fields are cultivated by smallholder farmers with 1.2 hectares each on average and have been growing rice for generations.

However, AWD has been gaining ground. It’s being adopted in China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia. In the U.S., too! In fact, the world’s first carbon credits from AWD in rice cultivation were generated just last month by farmers in Mississippi, Arkansas and California. 

The 5th Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion guides us in our calling “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” We can live into this mission wherever we are and in whatever we do, whether we are farmers or office workers. For farmers, this means cultivating the land in the best way possible. For an office worker, it may mean shutting down computers to save electricity, turning off lights, reducing waste and recycling and composting at work. Everyday, we have the opportunity to show thanks to God for the beauty and resources He gives us by being good stewards of His creation. Let’s show it!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Climate Change for an Island Nation

In 2012, Philippines was ranked the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change by a German organization. In 2013, we fell to #5, but take a look at the list here and think: who pollutes, and who pays?

Philippines and other tropical, developing countries are positioned to suffer from from the impacts of climate change in terms of fatalities and economic loss from climate-related disasters. 

For Philippines, climate change is expected to bring rising mean temperatures, change in amount and intensity of rainfall, and a change in the number of tropical cyclones. 

The agricultural industry (which accounts for 11% of GDP) is particularly vulnerable since it relies on traditional knowledge and predictable weather patterns. Twelve million Filipinos, or 30% of the labor force, sustain their livelihood in agriculture. A land-owning farmer has about 1.2 hectares, on average. 

For these smallholder farmers, climate change could bring decreased productivity and increased pests and plant disease, which may affect yields. This would be devastating for a farmer, living in poverty, whose entire livelihood is dependent upon the climate.

Thankfully, Philippines is mobilizing to act on climate. Climate change is no joke to Filipinos; they experience it firsthand. With the Filipino environmental ethic, people conserve resources and take pride in being good stewards of the Earth.

For one, the E-CARE Foundation partners with communities and Episcopal Relief and Development to plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide. 

Stay tuned for the next post to explore what other options for climate change mitigation and adaption Philippines is developing!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I've moved!

I am now based in Santiago City, Isabela Province!

At the beginning of June, I transferred here to The Episcopal Diocese of Santiago to work on a low-greenhouse gas emission rice farming project. Santiago City, located in the Cagayan Valley, is nestled between the Cordillera Mountains (where I was living) to the West, and the Sierra Madre Mountains to the East. 

A snapshot from the early morning drive from Manila to Santiago:

Although this is a lowland region, many of the E-CARE partner communities are Igorot (from the mountains) who transferred here for greener pastures in the 1970s. The livelihood of most of the E-CARE partner communities here is rice farming. In fact, this region is known second-largest rice-producing area in the Philippines!

The traditional rice cultivation method is to keep the fields continuously flooded throughout the growing period. This creates methane emissions, since the rice straw left on the field doesn't come into contact with the air, so it decomposes anaerobically, emitting methane as a byproduct. 

However, if the fields are allowed to drain enough to dry the top of the soil, methane emissions can be reduced by 50%. This method, known as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD), also saves water by about 30%, may increase yields, and promotes food security.

The trick is in outreach to the farmers to break the long-held belief that rice is an aquatic plant. (It is a semi-aquatic plant).

Stay tuned for more updates on the project!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

From Receiving to Giving

The E-CARE program strives to build the self-reliance of its partner communities, and while many projects have succeeded in being operational, they have not been as successful at breaking through “the destructive world views of dependency.” One cause is that large grant funding puts communities in the role of receivers, making them “more helpless and powerless as they realized that they can never generate these amounts by themselves and therefore it was solely upon the grace of others that they have received the same.”

Such has been the experience of the Church’s development program when it first adopted the ABCD approach. Recall the community with the independent spirit from the Cordillera Mountains that we mentioned here. Natives and migrants alike lived in a largely undeveloped area, and through communal and individual efforts, the community cultivated the land and built community infrastructure. The community applied for a grant through the EPC for a water system and post-harvest facilities, with the understanding that after the Church completed the project, the community was responsible for management thereafter. However, when these structures were damaged, the community turned to the Church requesting more funds for repairs.

The “seeds of dependency” were now sown into this once-self-reliant community; large grant funding had taken the place of their entrepreneurial spirit. Ironically, the community’s self-reliant spirit was identified as one of their strength’s during the ABCD asset-identification process. Even the ABCD approach which focused on harnessing a community’s existing strengths “did not and could not fully address the dependency and mendicants problem.”

“ABCD therefore was in danger of becoming just another by-word or concept meant to justify and smoothen the resource flow from external partners to local communities by providing the rationale for the latter to leverage external resources in a manner that was more acceptable to the funding partners but, in the end, did not actually make a significant dent on dependency. ABCD proved “no match” to the well-entrenched culture of dependency.”

In exploring the problem of dependency, a personal anecdote from the National Development Officer shares an experience of the effect of being cast into the “receiver” role:

“The National Development Officer (NDO) attended the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) in Anaheim, California in 2009. Among several meetings attended, he was invited to a reception of the Stewardship Network which was then honoring a Taiwanese priest for his work on stewardship. More specifically, the awardee was being honored for his leadership over a Taipei congregation whose generosity made possible the construction of seven church buildings overseas. It was indeed a remarkable achievement. Prior to the awarding, a video presentation showed the work of this congregation and the church buildings it constructed. When the first of these building flashed onscreen, the NDO gladly recognized it as it was a Church in the ECP. The second church building was likewise in the ECP, and the NDO proudly acknowledged it. When the 3rd, 4th, and 5th buildings were shown, the NDO started feeling very uncomfortable as these were all in the ECP. At the photo of the 6th and 7th churches, the Taiwanese priest was called to the stage and was given a standing ovation but the NDO could not even move and just wanted to disappear from the room. All the seven churches were in the Philippines and he was so ashamed of himself, especially as the video ended with the message that it was more blessed to give than to receive.

Following the awarding, a keynote speaker by the name of Rev. Ed Baker was called to give a message. A brilliant preacher, he talked about the Sea of Galilee as being so full of life from Biblical times and even up to now. He contrasted it to the Dead Sea which, as the name implies, does not allow any living thing within its embrace. The difference between the two, he said, is that the Sea of Galilee receives water from the Jordan River and discharges the same water into the seas while the Dead Sea has an inlet but not an outlet. The Dead Sea only receives but does not give out water. What makes the Sea of Galilee so alive, dynamic and vibrant, Rev. Baker said, is the continuous process of receiving and giving out its waters. Conversely, what makes the Dead Sea “dead” is that it only receives but does not give out. It was at this point that the NDO finally realized the answer to the question of dependency that has eluded the [Development program of the ECP] for more than 20 years.”

What was born from this experience is the Receivers to Givers program, R2G for short, through which communities receive grants to support their development projects and then “grant back” the funds to another community, so while they initially receive, they are then empowered to give.

Only after undergoing the ABCD process, are communities eligible for the R2G program and able to procure E-CARE funds for livelihood assistance or projects like building water or agricultural storage systems. After a determined time period, the community then “grants back” the funds either directly to another community seeking to do a similar project, to itself to do another community project or for E-CARE to hold until another community is ready for their project.

E-CARE works with communities to find a time frame for granting back their funds that works for all involved; no one-size-fits all schemes here. Although, shorter grant back schedules are more favorable because the funds and their benefit is fresh in cooperative members’ minds. If they receive funds to purchase seeds for one agricultural cycle, then when they repay just after harvest, they will have settled their debt at the same time they reap the benefits of the investment, and be able to avail of more funding again. Furthermore, the engagement between E-CARE and the partner communities is more continuous and lessons are learned and incorporated to action more quickly.

While similar to a loan program in regards to providing funds, this program distinctly differs in that the money loaned to a group is not then returned to the loaning organization to do with it what they may, but the funds can be used only for another community project.

Requiring a 100% grant back encourages more efficient and sustainable projects and sustainability for the E-CARE program as the same funds are used again and again. In fact, E-CARE asks for less and less money each year from its external funding partners, the opposite trend of most organizations!

On top of the grant back, during a community’s second funding cycle, they contribute an additional 1.5% of the borrowed amount. From this 1.5%, 0.5% supports the administrative budget of the E-CARE program, 0.5% is offered to the local Episcopal parish, for the organizing work done by the local priest, and 0.5% is returned to the community organization, so they can build up their capital and become more self-reliant. Communities are only assessed a 1.5% rate when they are economically-able to do so, even if this will be after several funding cycles. Compared to the typical 3% - 5% per month on agricultural loans, this rate is a huge relief! While there is no legal requirement to grant back or pay an add-on, no community has refused to do so, excited about the opportunity to share their blessings with others.

At the time the grant-back is due, the community decides where the funds go. They may go back to their community for another project, passed on to another E-CARE community, passed on to another community not yet partnered with E-CARE, or placed in E-CARE’s care to be used for a future community project. E-CARE informs R2G communities about the needs of other groups, and repeatedly, communities are more than eager to gift their grant back to those in need, even granting back ahead of schedule to do so. When funds for a community’s grant request are unavailable, E-CARE may appeal to communities to pay ahead of schedule, which has always been met with a positive response. In many cases, communities do grant back early, even significantly in advance. For example, when Super Typhoon Yolanda (International name, Haiyan) struck the Central Philippines in November 2014, a community in the Northern Philippines announced that it was shortening its repayment period from 2 years to 1 year, in order to assist those impacted. Having so long been trapped in a cycle constantly being only receivers, communities are delighted to be able to share their blessings with others.

Relationships are key in this program. E-CARE and the R2G community must have a steady stream of communication to learn lessons and tackle obstacles, as well as between the R2G communities themselves The granting and receiving communities meet for the pass-on, which is done in a ceremonious way. Communities may mentor one another, as E-CARE sees opportunities for them to share knowledge with one another.

E-CARE’s relationship with its partner communities typically does not just last one project or grant cycle, as one project will not be enough to significantly elevate their economic status out of poverty. Communities may receive multiple grants under the R2G program, as long as they continue to grant-back.

Embracing the opportunity to become givers, communities often grant back significantly ahead of schedule, also providing them the opportunity to receive funds again. Each time the community grants back, with an add on, they are increasing their total capital. Furthermore, community groups also plan that when their collective capital reaches a certain amount, they will reduce the amount of grants they receive from E-CARE and become even more self-reliant.

Quotes and stories here are taken from the E-CARE Manuel of Operations.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking Down the ABCDs, Part II

For the backstory of The Episcopal Church of the Philippines coming to adopt Asset-Based Community Development, check out my last blog post here. Read on below to learn more about Asset-Based Community Development and the path of The E-CARE Foundation.

The Development Program Learns ABCD
The Development program, itself, has also learned through experience that ABCD is more effective in sustainably supporting economic development than conventional needs-based models.

One community here in the Cordillera Mountains, before partnering with E-CARE, had a strong self-starter ethic: to secure a water supply, community members pooled their resources to purchase materials and create a system. Whenever there was a challenge, the community used their internal resources to solve it. The community partnered with the PEC’s Development program to build a more permanent water system, with the agreement that after it was built that the community would be responsible for maintenance and repairs. However, after a typhoon damaged the water system, the community returned to the Church, asking that they fix it. What had happened to this once self-reliant community? They began expecting that their needs be provided by an outside source instead of looking within to their own resources.

This project began when E-CARE was just starting to formally use the ABCD model. While this project did first identify the community's assets (during which its self-starter attitude was identified as a strength), the importance of community involvement during the project was a key point learned by the Development program from this instance.

ABCD Process
Now, the program has a structured process through which it orients communities on the program requirements and works with them to identify their assets When a community or community group comes into partnership with E-CARE, they must first participate in the ABCD process, or the exercises that community goes through to identify, appreciate and value local assets and capacities which they can mobilize for sustainable development. While communities that partner with E-CARE are required to participate in the ABCD process before they can receive funds for their projects, the process is not merely a ‘check in the box’ in order to get funding, but a distinct project in itself. One community even withdrew its application for funds after the ABCD process when it realized it could improve its water system using its own resources identified through the process.

The ABCD process enables communities to follow the lead of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines “to stop looking at others and start looking into itself so that it realizes and appreciates what it has and can look into what it can do with these.” The process also makes communities aware of “dependency-creating” development models and invites them to engage in a “glass-half-full” way of addressing challenges, looking at “‘God’s abundance’ within their midst.” One of the assumptions through which ABCD operates is that God has blessed everyone with gifts which can be used to maximize one’s potential. Through the process, communities identify and map their assets using visual aids. Finally, they participate in community visioning exercises to explore and maximize assets to discover the most viable options and create development vision and plans.

The target communities for the E-CARE program are those facing debilitating economic marginalization. In this context where many are searching for their next meal, the rewards of a long-term endeavor like ABCD is difficult to envision and motivate one to act. The tendency here is to favor the dependency, needs-based approach. In this circumstance, E-CARE may then partner with a smaller group within that community which is interested in doing a project. After the community sees their success, others are oftentimes inspired to join in the effort.

Another challenge is overcoming the belief that agriculture can’t lead to a high level of economic development. Communities often underestimate their talents and potential. Most E-CARE communities are small-landholder farmers with inherited traditional agricultural knowledge. However, many undervalue this asset and believe that they cannot improve their economic status through their traditional livelihood.

Here, E-CARE may help the community to add value to their existing product. For example, one farming community up the road in my province here grew so much Chinese Cabbage, which can fluctuate in price and may not yield a high net value. So E-CARE brought in a food production specialist from the local university to train the community to produce kimchi, the delicious Korean fermented cabbage dish, for which the community can earn higher price for their product.

To further overcome the skepticism communities may have about investing in their traditional livelihoods for economic success, E-CARE commits to purchasing their organically grown vegetables and products. That’s where the E-CARE Marketing Centers and Cafe Galilea (the enterprise where I’m based) come in. Cafe Galilea serves organic vegetables, coffee, and meat produced by E-CARE partner communities, increasing the market for their products. And the marketing center (on the first floor of the building, and another E-CARE store in Manila) sells organic chilis, jams, wines, citronella, etc. produced by the local communities as well. Seeing the increased demand for their products through E-CARE’s commitment to market their products has encouraged fellow community members to follow suit.

E-CARE continues to encourage organic agricultural production through offering:

To purchase sustainably-produced rice at higher prices
Lower interest rates through cooperatives to farmers who produce rice sustainably
Advance payments to vegetable producers
Marketing assistance
Access to technology
Carbon-offset payments to agro-forestry development groups

After participating in the ABCD process, what can communities then do? Stay tuned till next week to learn about The E-CARE Foundation’s Receivers to Givers program!

Quotes and stories adapted from The E-CARE Foundation’s Manual of Operations.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Breaking Down the ABCDs, Part I

The E-CARE Foundation (standing for Episcopal Community Action for Relief and Renewal) is an economic development organization breaking the mold of traditional development models with the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) framework in mobilizing Filipino communities to harness their existing strengths to improve their economic livelihoods.

Episcopal Church Of the Philippines Development History
When the Episcopal Church established itself in the Northern Philippines in the early 1900s, it provided impoverished, indigenous communities with free food and education that instilled a sense of dependency and the idea that the Church is “a rich institution from which material benefits could be derived.” While education helped individuals enhance their skillset to improve their economic livelihood, community development remained minimal. Those educated moved to cities or abroad for higher compensation for their work, instead of reinvesting themselves in their communities; thus, the “brain drain.”

What resulted from the introduction of the Church into these once self-sustaining communities was a sense of dependency. The American Church model, along with its “costs of the structures and operates that sustained mission work or, further, the ‘cravings, desires and necessities of western civilization,’” was applied without much regard to the Philippine context. These communities couldn’t financially sustain such operations, so an annual grant subsidy from the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA) began, which remained the main source of support for the Philippine Episcopal Church (ECP) for 100+ years.

Amidst the political and economic turmoil, rising unemployment and widespread hunger of the Philippines in the 1970s and 80s, the ECP remained financially well-off through this annual grant. However, realizing that it must act to address the country’s socio-economic challenges, the ECP began to build its capacity to financially self-support and created a Development Program that housed income-generating projects, such as poultry and rice farms, a hotel, a cinema and transport lines. Most projects failed “due to technical problems, lack of management skills, poor feasibility planning, and, most significantly, the lukewarm support for these ventures from general membership.”

For one, the Church’s image as a wealthy institution lead to its projects’ demise. While most people were living in poverty, they didn’t see the need to devote time and energy to support an already-rich institution. Secondly, the development projects were seen as ends in themselves, not as a means of social transformation in overcoming dependency mindset.

From these failures (and one success - the organization of cooperatives which acted as credit unions), it learned the following lessons for grassroots economic development:
  1. Social projects need the full support of the people to succeed 
  2. Full support is given only if the people have ownership of the project 
  3. People’s sense of ownership over the project arises only if they are directly impacted by the project’s gains and losses 

In applying these lessons, the church shifted to community-based projects that catered to needs of the people, especially in areas with “massive economic marginalization.” The program grew to work with 200+ communities across the country on potable water and sanitation systems, agricultural support projects, irrigation systems, a cargo tram line, micro-hydro power projects and more.

Lessons Learned
Two strengths of the ECP’s development program is that it lives within the context it works and it incorporates lessons learned through experience into practice. While most development models’ only metric of success is financial which has “tended to weaken positive values and brought about self-centeredness” in this context, the ECP’s development program stresses that projects must “contribute towards the formation or strengthening of systems and relationships that embody the values of the Kingdom of God.” The program emphasizes building a loving and just community through the values of cooperation and enabling everyone to reach his or her full potential.

Another learning was that households in impoverished communities ranged in their amount of assets and that development projects tended to help those who already had some assets to access opportunities that micro-enterprise projects, water projects or coops provided. To address this, the development program pursued projects designed to help the poorest of the poor, those who could not otherwise avail of a development project’s benefits, while also supporting the entrepreneurial poor through credit and vital services.

Traditional Development Models
Many conventional development theories are needs-based, looking at what a community lacks and giving it to them. This may be large grants or providing them with water systems, schools, agricultural infrastructure, etc. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t value the community’s capacity to improve its own economic well being. Being the ever-recipient of handouts builds the mentality that one is incapable of helping oneself and must rely on a benefactor to provide for his needs.

On the other hand, Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), developed in the early 1990s, focuses on a community’s existing strengths and resources, to leverage them to improve their livelihood. It’s also applied in the Diocese of Louisiana, which has created an asset map in the region. This model contrasts this traditional “needs-based” approach, which focuses on what a community lacks, and champions upon what a community already has to build upon that.

The Church Learns ABCD
ABCD isn’t just a model from a book that this development program haphazardly adopted; it’s been the M.O. of the Church since it boldly discovered firsthand that ABCD works.

While the Philippine Episcopal Church became independent from the Episcopal Church in the USA in 1990, 60% of its budget was still covered by the annual grant subsidy from the US. Wanting to truly achieve independence, the ECP created a plan to gradually reduce the subsidy until it reached $0 in 2007.

Initially, budget deficits grew, programs were frozen and salaries were delayed. In 2004, the annual grant subsidy still covered 14% of the budget. Parish priests felt they had exhausted all income-generating efforts, and most believed the ECP couldn’t reach the 2007 target. The ECP contemplated requesting a 3 year extension from the ECUSA. Instead, the Episcopal Church of the Philippines made a bold decision. It did the complete opposite and resolved to end grant support, not by 2007, in 3 years, but by the end of that same year.

Diocesan leaders and members were outraged, but leadership ‘bit the bullet.’ Many prepared for the worst (deficits, salary delays, etc), but none of these came to be. In fact, for the first time in 20 years, the ECP ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus of 3,000,000 pesos (about $55,000)!

“The Church learned that it is only when it stops looking towards others and instead starts to fully look into itself that it realizes what it has and what it can achieve with it…. It did not just read about, analyze and conclude that ABCD was an effective tool - it actually lived it out and proved it to be the correct approach to development.”

From this experience, the ECP officially adopted ABCD as the mode to pursue community development work.

Stay tuned till next week when we’ll explore how the development program now applies the ABCD framework when working with communities in the Philippines!

Quotes and stories here are taken from the E-CARE Foundation Manual of Operations.